If ever there were a school designed after my own heart, this is the one…Yes, it was a picture-perfect fall afternoon for their Open House and yes, it’s very close to my neighborhood in lovely Fort Greene—but I am sure that this snapshot will not begin to do justice to the experience of visiting The Brooklyn Waldorf School.
Last Sunday, I walked along Atlantic from my home in Cobble Hill in the autumn sunshine and hung a left when I saw the sign for Hanson. Tucked on a sweet side street called St Felix, the Brooklyn Waldorf School is located inside an old-fashioned building that immediately feels like home. Established in 2004, Brooklyn Waldorf serves families with children ages 3 through Fourth Grade, with plans to unfold a new grade each year, through Grade 8. I had not heard of a Waldorf educational model before learning of this open house, but my sister (a librarian in PA) mentioned that she had visited a Waldorf School in Pittsburgh (http://www.waldorfpittsburgh.org) as an alternative option for her very sensitive and bright daughter when they moved (there are 900 Waldorf schools in 83 countries), explaining that teachers incorporate a great deal of “sensory experiences” into their lessons. I had no idea how true that theme would become through my tour that afternoon.
When I entered the unassuming doorway, a young admissions rep named Tess greeted me with a smile and checked off my name from her list. Tess gave an overview of the school and invited us to spend as much time as possible in each classroom. Immediately struck by an enticing aroma of lavender (or thyme?), I followed my nose into the pre-K classroom, painted a peaceful peach and filled with sunlight from the street. While the teacher talked about making applesauce and candles with the children, I looked around at the community table, toys, dishes, and pine cones that bordered the classroom—though it seemed more like a life-size doll house from my dreams. A soothing voice outlined the daily routine to prospective parents, and when the teacher said that they start the day by lighting a candle and reading a poem together “just about the joy of being alive,” the story was instantly over for me: I wanted to press the ‘rewind button’ and live my childhood over again….Here.
I wandered upstairs and became even more enamored with the cozy classrooms with views of tree-lined Brooklyn streets framed by soft cloth curtains. Every chalkboard was intricately decorated with a scene illustrating the theme of that week, much like a page from one of my huge picture books from home. A riddle on the 2nd grade chalkboard asked, “Why should you not tell secrets on the farm?” and of course I had to discover the solution, so the teacher shared the answer with a gentle smile, “Because the corn has ears and the potatoes have eyes.” I marveled at the colorful cursive letters of the alphabet and enchanting characters in chalk before continuing on my journey upstairs to the 4th Grade classroom. This teacher had similar artwork on her black board, so I inquired further about each educator’s background, discovering that the Waldorf model is one that encourages both students and teachers to develop their gifts. Each grade has a “humanities theme” for the year, starting with fairy tales and moving into myths, fables & legends, and spiritual stories from the Old Testament/Torah. Somehow, hearing this background made me feel as if I was surrounded by all of my old, favorite friends and have to admit that the joyful creativity of each class was almost palpable.
What’s also especially impressive about Brooklyn Waldorf is the attention to detail not only with creativity in the curriculum but also grammatical details. As I read some student samples of stories, it was obvious that there is an eye for exactness, and the Fourth Grade teacher confirmed teaching the foundational basics as components of a wholistic language approach to complement the exciting concepts. This information was confirmed by a handout of the Third Grade Syllabus which read, “Sept 9-Oct 2: Daily painting and writing of the days of creation from Genesis. Introduction to grammar, parts of speech, spelling, and punctuation through the stories of Adam and Eve…Gardening and harvesting, cooking.” The Brooklyn Waldorf education integrates music with math, movement with language, responsibility with jobs, nature with trips to the park (rain or shine—).
There are additional tours this year, and I must encourage you to make time for one of them:
November 8th (3-5pm)
November 16th (6-8pm)
March 8th (6-8pm)
I wanted to join the circle of parents in the meeting at 4pm in the beautiful open room of windows, wooden floors and ballet bars, but it was time for me to go—and yet, I must say…I do hope that I return someday. Seeing Brooklyn Waldorf was an experience I planned in order to help my clients, but I must admit that it mostly reassured and inspired me—if I ever have a daughter, I know there’s an educational option where we wouldn’t just feel “safe and supported” in this eclectic borough of Brooklyn: the Waldorf School is a place where I know we would wake in anticipation of joining every day. When I got home later that evening and my mom asked, “How was your tour?” I replied, “I would beg, borrow, and steal to get my future daughter into that school—it was a dream!”
Luckily, you don’t have to resort to those methods: probably the best part of this independent school, originally designed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, is that it is committed to diversity through their “Three Tier Tuition.” Read more on their website (www.brooklynwaldorf.org) about this unique and nurturing educational environment that “…responds to the developmental phases of children, fosters academic success as well as emotional and social intelligence, and connects children to nature and their communities.”